‘I’m thankful’: 85-year-old high school graduate on receiving her diploma

Dollita Okine June 11, 2024
Smith just graduated from high school, 67 years after her initial anticipated graduation date, in front of her family and the community she has long served. Photo Credit: Fox News, Brianna Robinson

Shirley Smith was surprised to learn on her 85th birthday that she would receive an honorary high school diploma. On June 1, Smith finally graduated from high school, 67 years after her initial anticipated graduation date, in front of her family and the community she has long served.

The Americus resident told Fox News, “I’m thankful. I think it’s an honor and I think it’s a blessing.”

The octogenarian, one of six children raised on a tobacco farm in Wilmington, North Carolina, relocated to Somerville, New Jersey, with her siblings after her father was faced with the difficulty of earning more to support his children after tobacco prices collapsed in 1956.

She recounted, “I was going to the 10th grade, and I told him, the biggest mistake that I made, I think, was telling him that I didn’t want to go to school and he said, ‘Go to work.’”

She worked at a dry cleaner’s first, then in a factory that made pocketbooks. Shortly after, she married and began her own family, eventually relocating to Georgia. She stated that she pondered enrolling in a vocational school, but her priorities of caring for her children and raising her family trumped a degree.

Nonetheless, Smith stated that education was a priority in her household, noting that she made her children aware that if they were to live under her roof, they would obtain an education.

Honoring her words, the delighted grandmother has seen her kids and grandkids attend universities, including Texas A&M, Montclair University, California State University, Fullerton, University of Tampa, and the University of Mississippi.

One of her granddaughters, Brianna Robinson, said, “My nana never missed a high school or college graduation for any of her children or grandchildren. I couldn’t be more honored and inspired. She always taught us to chase our dreams, and all things are possible if you keep faith in God.”

Now, Smith can also brag about having a diploma for her commitment to her family and unwavering support of their education throughout the years. Eric Finch, chief of police of the Montezuma Police Department, made this possible after being moved by the sentimental remarks made at her milestone birthday celebration.

Smith, a devout Baptist, has spent decades serving as a missionary in her communities, caring for the weak and destitute. She thanks God for her graduation, and she believes that His design and work through others is why individuals with experience rather than education can still be recognized for their persistent efforts.

Regarding her next steps and the possibility of attending college, Smith quipped that she is preparing to meet her maker, stating, “I’m getting ready to go to heaven, that’s what I’m getting ready to do. I’m going to get my reward from him.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 11, 2024


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